Article by Brigitte Rec
Photo Courtesy of Triple Crown Photography
Hiking the Catawba Challenge on Saturday, November 5 packed a day full of beautiful fall foliage, rolling mountain overlooks, blistered feet, and countless pb&j sandwiches. The Catawba Challenge is an activity put on by Roanoke College Outdoor Adventures where students and certified guides embark on a 20 mile hike on the neighboring Appalachian Trail. Familiarizing myself with the white blazes and the surrounding nature, the objective of the Catawba Challenge isn’t competitive, but rather personal. Every hiker begins the journey with a similar goal: to successfully complete 20 miles. However, every hiker leaves the trail with a unique experience and a personal accomplishment.
Brushing the idea of the Catawba Challenge aside as a freshman, I knew I had three years to hike it. As those three years approached more rapidly than I thought, my name found it’s way on the Catawba Challenge participant list earlier this month.
My 20 mile journey began with the buzzing of my alarm clock at 6:30am; waking up early to catch a ride to the trail, had to mentally be the hardest part of my day. Arriving at the trail head around 7:30, there were five certified guides from OA assisting on the hike, one set the pace at the front, another acted as the sweeper in the back of the group, and the other three were placed in the center of the participants. The first mile on the trail felt like it took hours to complete. Bearing the difficulty of the first incline that the guides warned us about, our efforts were met with a short water break at the top.
As the day continued my legs and mind developed a rhythm. Due to the amount of leaves covering the trail, I had to be extra aware of where I was stepping, to prevent an ankle from rolling on hidden rocks and divots in the ground. Around mile nine the group stopped for a lunch break at a camping ground. Jokes were exchanged, food was traded, and a game plan for the next 11 miles was discussed during lunch.
Mile ten through twelve presented its challenges to the group. Hiking up a steep incline, my legs began showing the signs of soreness as they marched to Tinker Cliffs. However, our hard work paid off when we reached the top of the mountain, where we were treated to the view of rolling mountains and autumn trees.
The final five mile push presented aching feet, some playful laughter, and a few bathroom stops behind random trees. The final mountain we faced started on the 16th mile and led us to the top of McAfee’s Knob. Encountering multiple switchbacks, we rushed up the mountain in order to witness the final hours of sunlight at the knob. Bundling up, the sunset at McAfee’s Knob was a perfect spot to reflect on the challenge we all just overcame.
As dusk set in, the group descended down the mountain lighting the path with the flashlights on our cell phones. Focused on completing the full 20 miles, the parked Roanoke College vans signified the end for the group. Safely dashing across VA-311 to the vans, the end of our journey was over and thoughts of burgers, tacos, and French fries filled our minds. Completing 20 miles in twelve hours, the journey of the trip meant much more than the destination.